Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Armstrong, Thomas
ARMSTRONG, Sir THOMAS (1624?–1684), royalist, and concerned in the Rye House Plot, was the son of an English soldier serving in one of James's Low Country expeditions, and was born at Nimeguen, where his father was quartered, about 1624. He was brought to England young, and served under Charles I; he joined Ormond in Ireland in 1649, and declared for Charles II (Heath's Chronicle of Civil Wars, part i. p. 240), for which and similar royalist services he was imprisoned in Lambeth House by Cromwell. There he endured many privations, owing to the inability of his party to provide him with money or help; but he contrived, after a year's imprisonment, to get released. About 1665 he was sent out of England, by the Earl of Oxford and other cavaliers, to Charles, with a considerable sum of money for the use of the exiled prince. He delivered the gift into the prince's own hands, and returning to England was, on the sixth day, imprisoned by Cromwell in the Gatehouse. In 1658, after another interval of liberty and of fidelity to the royal cause, Armstrong suffered a third imprisonment in the Tower; but on the death of the Protector, on 3 Sept. of that year, was released, and married Katharine, a niece of Clarendon's (Old-Mixox's Hist, of the Stuarts, vol. i. p. 687). He was one of the signatories to the Royalists' Declaration to Monk, April 1660 (Kennet's Chronicle, p. 122); and on the Restoration, in the following month, he was knighted by the king for his services, made lieutenant of the first troop of guards, and subsequently gentleman, or captain, of the horse. Shortly afterwards Armstrong became intimate with the Duke of Monmouth; and, according to the testimonies of unfriendly authorities, he 'led a very vitious life' (Burnet's Hist, of Own Times, vol. i. p. 577). Sprat says that he 'became a debauch'd Atheistical Bravo' (Sprat's True Account of the Horrid Conspiracy, p. 29); he fell, at any rate, into disfavour at court, whence he was dismissed; and having 'distinguish'd himself by murdering Mr. Scroop, a considerable Gentleman, in the Play-house' (Eachard's Hist. of England, p. 1027), he left England in 1679 with the Duke of Monmouth for Flanders, to join some English regiments there.
In 1682, Armstrong, who was 'Parliament man' for Stafford (State Trials, vol. x.), being back again in England, was frequently a visitor at the house of the disaffected Earl of Shaftesbury in Aldersgate Street (Copies of the Informations, 1685, p. 196), and was gradually embroiled in the Rye House plot. He was frequently at Colonel Romsey's house in King's Square, Soho Fields (Copies of Informations, p. 28), desiring interviews with Ferguson early in the morning, before Romsey was dressed; he was at West's chambers in the Temple, offering to get admittance to the Duke of York, under the pretence of discovering some plot against him, and then to kill him (Copies, p. 61). He was a visitor at all those taverns where the conspirators met, viz. the Fortune at Wapping, the Horse Shoe on Tower Hill, the King's Head in Atheist Alley, the Young Devil Tavern between the two Temple gates (for full list see Sprat's True Account, p. 52); he was at Shephard's house in Abchurch Lane with Lord William Russell and the rest, going thence, with the Duke of Monmouth and Lord Grey, to look into the condition of the king's guards, to see if it were possible to break through them to carry the king away, and returning with the report that the guards were certainly remiss, and the thing quite feasible (ibid, p. 150). Evidence was forthcoming also that, on the failure of the Rye House plot, Armstrong offered still to intercept the king and the duke on their homeward journey, provided money and men could be immediately procured. The king himself declared that when Armstrong had come to him abroad, nearly thirty years before, with the gift of money, he had confessed that he had come, employed by Cromwell, to kill him; and on 28 June 1683, a proclamation was issued for his apprehension. Armstrong, being greatly depressed at this turn of events, went to Romsey (Copies, p. 109) one night, in fear for him as well as for himself, 'and did importune me to be gone with the first, and in the meantime to keep close, for that I was mightily hunted after.' He himself, assuming the name of Mr. Henry Lawrence, succeeded in escaping and hiding himself in Leyden. But the reward to seize him was heavy, 'equal to the greatest' (Eachard's Hist. p. 1043), and out of it Chudleigh, the king's envoy, oftered 5,000 guilders. In May 1684 a spy at Leyden gave the desired information, the States issued the necessary order of acquiescence, and Armstrong (too much surprised to plead his Dutch birth) was carried to Rotterdam, loaded with irons, and placed on board the yacht Catherine. The Catherine anchored at Greenwich 10 June 1684 (Luttrell's MS., Brief Historical Relations, All Souls, Oxford); Sydney Godolphin signed a warrant the same day to captain Richardson, keeper of Newgate, to receive the prisoner; and thither, still in irons, he was conveyed on the morrow, 11 June. He was stripped of anything he had of value; he was searched; a bill of exchange was found in his pocket between one Hayes, a merchant at London, and another merchant at Leyden, and Hayes was at once committed to Newgate for complicity with a traitor. Armstrong was not allowed to see his family and friends except in the presence of his gaolers; and, all money having been taken from him, he was unable to obtain the assistance of counsel (State Trials for High Treason, 35 Charles II). In three days, 14 June, he was taken to King's Bench, Guildhall, attended by his daughter, Jane Mathews, another being repulsed. Titus Oates was one of his accusers; Jeffries was his judge. His claim was for a proper trial, under the statute 5 and 6 Edward VI, c. 11. Jeffries denied his right to be heard on the ground that he was an outlaw and a traitor, and sentenced him to death in spite of his protests and his daughter's shrieks. On the 18th his wife and daughters applied in vain for a writ of error to Lord Keepr North, Jeffries himself, and other officials. Armstrong was executed on Friday, 20 June 1684. Huggons (Reinarks on Burnet's Hist. p. 269) relates: 'I saw that unhappy man go to die; … he threw about his arms as far as the rope that tied him would permit … he turned about his head, shrugged up his shoulders, with convulsions and distortions of his countenance.' At the scaffold he became so resigned as to astonish those who knew his hot temper. He was met by Tenison, who took charge of a written paper he gave him protesting his innocence.
His body was quartered; his head was fixed at Westminster Hall, between the heads of Bradshaw and Cromwell (Eachard, p. 1043). On 1 July Armstrong's protest was given to the world; a general feeling prevailed, fortified by the legal opinion of Sir John Hawles, Solicitor-General, that a great injustice had been done, since no outlawed person ever was denied his trial before (Oldmixon, Hist, of Stuarts, p. 686); and in 1689, after examination of Dame Katharine Armstrong, the widow, and her daughters, a sum of 5,000l. was ordered to be paid to them, and the attainder was reversed. Five years elapsed before this was carried out by William and Mary in 1694.[True Account and Declaration of the Horrid Conspiracy, published by command of James II, 1685; Biographia Britannica, where the Scaffold Paper is in extenso; Russell's Life of Lord Russell, p. 257; Clarendon's Hist.; Kennet's Chronicle.]